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Explore Microsoft Excel for iPad: Collaborate, Share, and Sync Spreadsheet (Workbook) Files with Excel for PC and Mac

In this article, Jason R. Rich takes a look at the new Microsoft Excel for iPad app, and discusses why business people in particular will find this to be a “must have” app on their tablet if their job involves creating, editing or reviewing spreadsheets and/or crunching numbers.
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Until recently, if an iPad user needed to create or manage a spreadsheet, one of the best options available for this purpose was Apple’s own Numbers app. That is, until late March 2014, when Microsoft finally released its Office for iPad suite of applications, which includes the genuine Excel for iPad app.

Now, anyone with an iPad can view Excel workbooks or worksheets (native .xlsx or .xls files) on their tablet’s screen, without having to convert the file from another file format when transferring it from a PC or Mac, or receiving it from another user.

Transferring and Syncing Excel Files Between iPads, PCs, and Macs is Easy

When the Excel for iPad app is used in conjunction with a paid Office 365 subscription (which is recommended), all of the app’s features are unlocked. This allows users to create, edit, manage, view, and share Excel files on their tablet that are fully compatible with Excel for the PC and/or Mac. From the iPad, Excel files are managed from the app’s Workbook Management screen (shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1 From Excel for iPad's Workbook Management screen, you can create, manage, and/or import Excel files

All of the formulas (more than 400 of them), tables, charts, hyperlinks, conditional formatting, and comments, for example, that are incorporated within an Excel file automatically transfer seamlessly when the files are imported to an iPad. Thus, the appearance of your workbook and worksheets remain virtually identical, no matter what screen you’re viewing them on.

Using Excel for iPad’s integrated email function, Excel files can be received from others via email (using the Mail app) and then opened within Excel for iPad. Likewise, Excel files can be sent to other people via email from directly within the Excel for iPad app (shown in Figure 2). However, the most efficient way to transfer files between PCs, Macs, and iPads is to utilize a Microsoft OneDrive account.

Figure 2 While using Excel for iPad, it's easy to share your work with others via email from within the app. Simply click on the Share icon that's located in the top-right corner of the screen

When Excel for iPad is used in conjunction with a OneDrive account, someone can begin editing a workbook (spreadsheet) on one computer or mobile device, and then continue working with that same file, from exactly where they left off, when they switch to a different computer or device that’s linked to the same OneDrive account. Multiple people can also collaborate on the same file.

Each paid Office 365 subscription includes a Microsoft OneDrive (formally Microsoft SkyDrive) account that offers 20GB of online storage space. OneDrive integration is now built into all of the Office applications (PC/Mac) and iPad apps, and allows for the easy sharing and syncing of Office-related documents and files via this online, cloud-based file sharing service.

Excel for iPad Was Designed Specially for Apple’s Bestselling Tablet

You’ll quickly discover that Excel for iPad takes full advantage of the iPad’s touchscreen and adaptive virtual keyboard. As a result, when formulas or numbers are being entered from the iPad, the tablet’s virtual keyboard adapts based on the type of data being inputted (shown in Figure 3). This makes data entry faster, easier, and more accurate.

Figure 3 The iPad's virtual keyboard adapts, based on the type of data being entered

Another great feature of the Excel for iPad app is that its user interface is simple, straight forward, and extremely reminiscent of what’s offered by Excel for the PC and Mac. So, if you’re already proficient using this popular spreadsheet software on your desktop or notebook computer, the learning curve for using Excel for iPad is negligible.

In addition, the on-screen appearance and menu structure that Excel uses is very similar to Microsoft’s other Office for iPad apps. Like the other Office for iPad apps, as you’re working with Excel for iPad, your work is automatically saved and will automatically sync with your OneDrive account (overwriting the older version of your work). Thus, if you want or need to maintain a copy of your original work before editing or updating it, it’s important to create a copy of the file using a different name or turn off the AutoSave feature that’s built into the app. To do this, from the main Workbook Editing screen, tap on the File icon (displayed near the top-left corner of the screen), and then turn the virtual switch that’s associated with the AutoSave option to the Off position (shown in Figure 4).

Figure 4 The AutoSave feature of Excel for iPad can be manually turned on or off from the File menu

In addition to its ability to crunch numbers, as you’d expect from a genuine version of Excel, this iPad edition makes creating visually stunning, colorful, and customized charts and tables a straight forward process (shown in Figure 5).

Figure 5 Incorporating tables and charts into a spreadsheet is easy. For example, tap on the Insert option, followed by the Charts option (shown) or the Table option

Each time you opt to create a new workbook, 15 different pre-formatted templates are available, or you can create one from scratch by selecting the New Blank Workbook option (shown in Figure 6).

Figure 6 When creating a workbook from scratch on the iPad, choose an appropriate and customizable template to save yourself time

Then, once you begin working with a workbook using Excel’s Workbook Editing screen, the on-screen interface looks simple, but gives you quick access to hundreds of features and functions by tapping on menu options and icons that are displayed along the top of the screen. For example, in the top-center portion of the screen, you’ll see six main menu options, labeled Home, Insert, Formulas, Review, View and Table. Tap on any one of these options to reveal a related submenu which offers quick access to commonly used features and functions.

Displayed in the left and right corners of the screen are additional command icons that allow you to easily navigate around within the app, manage files, search content and share your work.

To Take Full Advantage of Excel for iPad’s Features and Functions, a Paid Office 365 Subscription Is Required

In order to utilize all of Excel for iPad’s features and functions, this free iPad app must be used in conjunction with a paid Office 365 subscription, even if you already have another paid version of Excel running on your PC or Mac. Otherwise, you’ll only be able to load and view pre-existing Excel files into your iPad, not create or edit them.

An Office 365 Personal subscription costs $6.99 per month and allows a user to utilize the Office applications on one PC or Mac, as well as on one tablet. For $9.99 per month, the Office 365 Family plan grants full access to Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, etc.) on five computers and/or tablets.

In order to utilize Apple’s OWA for iPad app, which is an email management app that is Outlook compatible, an Office 365 Business subscription must be acquired. All of the Office 365 Business subscription options also unlock all of the other Office applications for PCs, Macs, and iPads, including Excel.

What’s Missing from Excel for iPad

While Excel files easily transfer between the iPad and other computers, the iPad edition of Excel does lack a few of the features used to customize or personalize worksheets. For example, you can’t currently create comments within a worksheet, nor can you name cells or ranges.

If you tend to work simultaneously with multiple worksheets that are stored in separate workbooks on the iPad, this too will be problematic, since only one workbook can be opened at a time. Version 1.0.1 of Excel for iPad, which was released in late April 2014, does now offer AirPrint compatibility, which allows for the wireless printing of selected ranges within a worksheet, an entire individual worksheet, or an entire workbook from within the app.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who relies on their desktop or notebook computer to crunch numbers and/or create and manage detailed spreadsheets will truly appreciate the new Excel for iPad app. Using this app (in conjunction with a paid Office 365 subscription and OneDrive account), someone can easily leave their cumbersome notebook computer behind, yet be fully productive while on-the-go, and when necessary, be able to easily share their Excel files with others (or collaborate in real-time) without first having to export the Excel file to or from another file format. Native Excel files now automatically look and function identically across multiple platforms, including PCs, Macs and the iPad.

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